‘I was proud to see my hus­band’s face on an­other man’

But widow is pleased that re­cip­i­ent of 56-hour op­er­a­tion looks dif­fer­ent and shares his in­ter­ests

The Daily Telegraph - - World news - By Har­riet Alexan­der in New York

ANDY SAND­NESS pulled the trig­ger, and im­me­di­ately knew he had made a ter­ri­ble mis­take.

It was two days be­fore Christ­mas in 2006 and Mr Sand­ness, then 21, had been drink­ing too much in his ru­ral Wy­oming home, and bat­tling de­pres­sion. He took a ri­fle out of the cup­board, placed the bar­rel un­der his chin, and fired.

Against all odds he sur­vived, telling the ar­riv­ing po­lice of­fi­cer, as he cra­dled him in his arms: “Please, please don’t let me die! I don’t want to die!”

Ten years later, and 500 miles east of Wy­oming, an­other 21-year-old also pulled the trig­ger.

Calen “Rudy” Ross killed him­self in ru­ral Min­nesota in June 2016, leav­ing be­hind his 19-year-old wife Lilly, eight months preg­nant.

Ross had in­di­cated that he wanted to be an or­gan donor, and so his heart, lungs, liver and kid­neys could be do­nated. But ad­di­tional screen­ing de­ter­mined he could do even more: he was a match for a man await­ing a face trans­plant – Mr Sand­ness.

“I was scep­ti­cal at first,” said Mrs Ross. “I didn’t want to walk around and all of a sud­den see Calen.”

But she was re­as­sured the donor had his own eyes and fore­head, and would not be recog­nis­able as her hus­band. Af­ter con­sult­ing with her hus­band’s best friend, she gave her con­sent, and the 56-hour op­er­a­tion was car­ried out in late June 2016.

Last month, Mrs Ross came face-to­face with the man now wear­ing her hus­band’s face.

“I wanted to show you that your gift will not be wasted,” said Mr Sand­ness, as he hugged a tear­ful Mrs Ross in pho­tographs pub­lished yes­ter­day. Mrs Ross touched his face, re­lieved that he did not re­sem­ble her late hus­band – ex­cept for a small hair­less patch on his chin, where his fa­cial hair did not grow.

“That’s why he al­ways grew it so long, so he could try to mesh it to­gether on the chin,” she ex­plained.

Mr Sand­ness told her how he shared her late hus­band’s love of hunt­ing and fish­ing in the wilder­ness; Mrs Ross was as­ton­ished at how sim­i­lar their at­ti­tudes were. From spend­ing a decade afraid of mir­rors, reclu­sive and avoid­ing the fright­ened stares of chil­dren, Mr Sand­ness is now re­dis­cov­er­ing life.

“Those were real tough times for him,” said his fa­ther, Reed. “He was in­se­cure. Who wouldn’t be?”

Now he has been pro­moted in his work as an oil­field elec­tri­cian, and is able to eat nor­mal food again – pre­vi­ously his dis­torted mouth meant it was im­pos­si­ble to chew. “I wouldn’t go out in pub­lic. I hated go­ing into big­ger cities,” he said. “And now I’m just re­ally spread­ing my wings and do­ing the things I missed out on – go­ing out to restau­rants and eat­ing, go­ing danc­ing.”

Mr Sand­ness, one of only around a

‘Now I’m just spread­ing my wings and do­ing the things I missed out on – go­ing to restau­rants and eat­ing, go­ing danc­ing’

dozen peo­ple be­lieved to have re­ceived a face trans­plant, is on a daily reg­i­men of anti-re­jec­tion med­i­ca­tion and must con­stantly work to re­train his nerves to op­er­ate in sync with his new face.

“It made me proud,” said Mrs Ross, adding that she wanted her son, Leonard, to know that his late fa­ther had a big, gen­er­ous heart.

On the day of their meet­ing, the boy stared cu­ri­ously at Mr Sand­ness at first. But later, he walked over and waved to be picked up. Mr Sand­ness, who is start­ing a trust fund to con­trib­ute to the boy’s ed­u­ca­tion, hap­pily obliged.

“Meet­ing Andy, has fi­nally given me clo­sure,” said Mrs Ross, her voice chok­ing as it trailed off. “Ev­ery­thing hap­pened so fast.”

Lilly Ross meets the re­cip­i­ent of her late hus­band’s do­nated face, Andy Sand­ness, left. Her fears that he would re­sem­ble Calen Ross were un­founded, she said, apart from a small hair­less patch on his chin

Pic­tured be­fore his failed sui­cide at­tempt, Andy Sand­ness, top, re­ceived the face of self-in­flicted gun­shot vic­tim Calen ‘Rudy’ Ross, above, in a 56-hour op­er­a­tion car­ried out in June 2016

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